YULEE, Fla. – Minutes after she got the justice she had been praying for in the 3½ years following the disappearance of her 34-year-old daughter, Ann Johnson offered a message for her daughter’s killer:
“I do have a message from one mother to another mother. I know that you feel the pain of not being able to see your son, but if you could find it within your heart to tell us where the remains of my daughter -- where are the remains of my daughter? Give us some closure. I’m asking you from one mother to another. That’s all I have to say, and that’s all I pray for.”
It only took a jury a little over an hour Thursday to find Kimberly Kessler guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Johnson’s daughter, Joleen Cummings.
“Today we praise God, praise God, that we got the verdict and that it gives us some type of closure. While my daughter Jolene has not been found, we have, at least, the verdict of the indictment of first-degree premediated murder,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon outside the Nassau County Courthouse. “We miss Joleen every second of the day — my family, our families, the Cummings’ families, the children. Not a day goes by. But I really feel like Joleen is with us today. I felt like she’s actually been in that courtroom with us.”
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Cummings, who worked with Kessler at a Nassau County salon, disappeared in May 2018. Her remains have never been found.
After the verdict came down, Johnson, who has closely followed the case, took the time to thank Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, the jury and everyone else who was involved in the prosecution.
“Our prayers have been answered,” she said.
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Johnson was one of the first witnesses called to testify in the trial. She said it wasn’t her daughter’s personality to just disappear. “She didn’t even acknowledge her birthday,” Johnson said.
Cummings was last seen alive on May 12, 2018, at Tangles Hair Salon, where she worked with Kessler. Johnson said the next day, Mother’s Day, would have been Cummings’ birthday, but instead, she was reported missing when she didn’t pick up her children to spend time with them that day, as she was scheduled to do.
Much of the testimony during the trial focused on physical evidence found at the salon that investigators said points to Cummings being killed there.
Despite a lengthy search, including one at a Georgia landfill, no trace of Cummings’ remains has ever been found.
Johnson has said she just wants to be able to lay her daughter to rest.
“A life has been cut short through an act of cruelty,” Johnson wrote in a statement earlier this year, marking three years since Cummings’ disappearance. “The disregard for human life adds overwhelming feelings of turmoil, distrust, injustice, and helplessness to a normal sense of loss and sorrow. The world no longer feels as safe as it once did. When your child is murdered, grief is only the beginning.”
Following Thursday’s verdict, News4JAX received a statement from the father of Cummings’ two sons, saying, in part:
“I do want to say thank you to everybody who put one second into this case from the Cops,FBI,Prosecutors and everybody in-between. Yes today was a great day there is still an emptiness of to not having joleens whereabouts or having her with us. Her kids ask about her and talk about her daily they will grow up to know their mother was loved by many.”